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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2024
  3. Streamflow often increases after fire, but the persistence of this effect and its importance to present and future regional water resources are unclear. This paper addresses these knowledge gaps for the western United States (WUS), where annual forest fire area increased by more than 1,100% during 1984 to 2020. Among 72 forested basins across the WUS that burned between 1984 and 2019, the multibasin mean streamflow was significantly elevated by 0.19 SDs ( P < 0.01) for an average of 6 water years postfire, compared to the range of results expected from climate alone. Significance is assessed by comparing prefire and postfire streamflow responses to climate and also to streamflow among 107 control basins that experienced little to no wildfire during the study period. The streamflow response scales with fire extent: among the 29 basins where >20% of forest area burned in a year, streamflow over the first 6 water years postfire increased by a multibasin average of 0.38 SDs, or 30%. Postfire streamflow increases were significant in all four seasons. Historical fire–climate relationships combined with climate model projections suggest that 2021 to 2050 will see repeated years when climate is more fire-conducive than in 2020, the year currently holdingmore »the modern record for WUS forest area burned. These findings center on relatively small, minimally managed basins, but our results suggest that burned areas will grow enough over the next 3 decades to enhance streamflow at regional scales. Wildfire is an emerging driver of runoff change that will increasingly alter climate impacts on water supplies and runoff-related risks.« less
  4. Northwestern Europe has experienced a trend of increasingly wet winters over the past 150 years, with few explanations for what may have driven this hydroclimatic change. Here we use the Old World Drought Atlas (OWDA), a tree-ring based reconstruction of the self-calibrating Palmer Drought Severity Index (scPDSI), to examine this wetting trend and place it in a longer hydroclimatic context. We find that scPDSI variability in northwestern Europe is strongly correlated with the leading mode of the OWDA during the last millennium (1000–2012). This leading mode, here named the ‘English Channel’ (EC) mode, has pronounced variability on interannual to centennial timescales and has an expression in scPDSI similar to that of the East Atlantic teleconnection pattern. A shift in the EC mode from a prolonged negative phase to more neutral conditions during the 19th and 20th centuries is associated with the wetting trend over its area of influence in England, Wales, and much of northern continental Europe. The EC mode is the dominant scPDSI mode from approximately 1000–1850, after which its dominance waned in favor of the secondary ‘North–South’ (NS) mode, which has an expression in scPDSI similar to that of the winter North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). We examine themore »dynamical nature of both of these modes and how they vary on interannual to centennial timescales. Our results provide insight into the nature of hydroclimate variability in Europe before the widespread availability of instrumental observations.« less
  5. Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2023
  6. Abstract Droughts that span the states of Washington, Oregon, and California are rare but devastating due to their large spatial coverage and potential loss of redundancies in water, agricultural, and fire-fighting resources. Such pan-coastal droughts [which we define using boreal summer volumetric soil moisture along the U.S. Pacific coast (32°–50°N, 115°–127°W)] require a more precise understanding of the roles played by the Pacific Ocean and internal atmospheric variability. We employ 16-member ensembles of the Community Atmosphere Model version 5 and Community Climate Model version 3 forced with observed sea surface temperatures (SSTs) from 1856 to 2012 to separate and quantify the influences of the tropical Pacific and internal atmospheric variability on pan-coastal droughts; all other boundary conditions are kept at climatological levels to explicitly isolate for the impacts of SST changes. Internal atmospheric variability is the dominant driver of pan-coastal droughts, accounting for 84% of their severity, and can reliably generate pan-coastal droughts even when ocean conditions do not favor drought. Cold phases of the Pacific Ocean play a secondary role and contribute, on average, only 16% to pan-coastal drought severity. Spatiotemporal analyses of precipitation and soil moisture along the U.S. Pacific coast corroborate these findings and identify an antiphasedmore »wet–dry dipole pattern induced by the Pacific to play a more secondary role. Our model framework expands on previous observational analyses that point to the spatially uniform forcing of internal atmospheric variability as the more dominant mode of hydroclimate variability along the U.S. Pacific coast. The secondary nature of oceanic forcing suggests limited predictability of pan-continental droughts.« less
  7. Abstract

    Instrumental records indicate a century-long trend towards drying over western North America and wetting over eastern North America. A continuation of these trends into the future would have significant hydroclimatic and socioeconomic consequences in both the semi-arid Southwest and humid East. Using tree-ring reconstructions and hydrologic simulations of summer soil moisture, we evaluate and contextualize the modern summer aridity gradient within its natural range of variability established over the past 600 years and evaluate the effects of observed and anthropogenic precipitation, temperature, and humidity trends. The 2001–2020 positive (wet east-dry west) aridity gradient was larger than any 20 year period since 1400 CE, preceded by the most negative (wet west-dry east) aridity gradient during 1976–1995, leading to a strong multi-decade reversal in aridity gradient anomalies that was rivaled only by a similar event in the late-16th century. The 2001–2020 aridity gradient was dominated by long-term summer precipitation increases in the Midwest and Northeast, with smaller contributions from more warming in the West than the East and spring precipitation decreases in the Southwest. Multi-model mean climate simulations from Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 6 experiments suggest anthropogenic climate trends should not have strongly affected the aridity gradient thus far. However, theremore »is high uncertainty due to inter-model disagreement on anthropogenic precipitation trends. The recent strengthening of the observed aridity gradient, its increasing dependence on precipitation variability, and disagreement in modeled anthropogenic precipitation trends reveal significant uncertainties in how water resource availability will change across North America in the coming decades.

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  8. Abstract The European Great Famine of 1315–1317 triggered one of the worst population collapses in European history and ranks as the single worst European famine in mortality as a proportion of population. Historical records point to torrential rainfall, land saturation, crop failure, and prolonged flooding as important causes of the famine. Here we use the tree-ring based Old World Drought Atlas (OWDA) to show that the average of each growing season preceding the Great Famine years (1314–1316) was the fifth wettest over Europe from 1300 to 2012 C.E. The spatial and temporal characteristics of our OWDA-estimated anomalies are in excellent agreement with available historical accounts. We also characterize a mode of European hydroclimate variability that is associated with the Great Famine, which we term the “Great Famine mode.” This mode emerges as the leading mode of European hydroclimate variability from 1300–2012 and is strongly associated with extreme wet and dry events in Europe over the last millennium.